Neck exercise

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

Neck arthritis is one of the most common problems seen in a rheumatology practice. Simple exercises, along with proper medication, a neck support pillow, and encouragement often are very helpful. The following are some exercises that patients often find helpful.

Do not do these exercises until you've checked with your physician or physical therapist

These exercises are meant to help improve range of motion and control pain.

Do each movement slowly five times, resting a short time in between each set of movements. Do these two or three times a day.

• Neck flexion: Bring your head forward so that the chin touches the chest and your face is staring straight down at the floor. Do slowly five times.

• Neck extension: Let the head go back until the face is looking directly at the ceiling. If you feel dizzy or if you feel pain when you do this, stop it.

• Rotation: Turn your head slowly to one side until it cannot go further. Once you have done five to one side repeat it to the other side. Do not roll your neck around. If you feel dizzy or have pain when you do this, stop it.

• Side flexions: Keep your head facing straight forward and try and tip your ear down towards the same shoulder.

• Retraction: This is a useful neck exercise since it counteracts poor posture. Keep your face looking straight ahead, draw the head back and the chin down slightly. If you get it right, you will look like a West Point plebe. In fact, this exercise is known as the "West Point" posture.

• Dorsal glide. If you feel pain, do not glide so far back.
o Sit or stand tall and look straight ahead.
o Slowly tuck your chin as you glide your head backward over your body. Hold for a count of 5, then relax.
o Repeat 6 to 10 times.

• Chest and shoulder stretch: stretches the shoulders and chest.

o Sit or stand tall and glide your head backward as in the above exercise
o Raise both arms so that your hands are next to your ears.
o Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, lower your elbows down and behind your back. Feel your shoulder blades slide down and together.
o Hold for a few seconds.
o Relax and repeat.

• Shoulder lifts:
o Lie facedown with your arms beside your body.
o Lift your head and shoulders straight up from the floor as high as you can without pain. Keep your eyes looking down at the floor.
o Keep your torso and hips pressed to the floor.
o Repeat 6 to 10 times.

Use a towel to support and give moderate resistance behind the head. Roll the head from side to side.

Apply resistance with clasped hands at back of head and push back with the head.

Have someone provide resistance at the front of the head and push forward with the head.

When you have neck problems it is unusual for the neck to be involved in isolation. The pain usually involves the thoracic spine and the shoulder girdle as well. It is good to do shoulder girdle exercises as well to loosen up this area.

Shoulder shrugs: Shrug your shoulders as far up as you easily can then downwards further than normal.

Shoulder bracing (retraction): Bring your shoulders to the front as if you are trying to get them to meet at the middle then brace them right back, pulling your shoulder blades together. Make it a large, slow, repeated movement.

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